Presentation at EUROSLA 24

Below find an extended summary of the talk that my colleague Thomas Wagner and I gave at the EUROSLA24 conference in York in September 2014. The summary is followed by a link to the most important slides.

Language growth in non-elitist CLIL

Content and language integrated learning seeks to, by definition, foster language learning (Dalton-Puffer 2011). This demands a clear focus on vocabulary acquisition/learning and vocabulary growth. CLIL proponents have repeatedly pointed out that such growth can be expected to happen as part of an immersive or incidental language learning methodology (Perez-Canado 2011). However, there seem to be three challenges to such a view. First, positive evidence for linguistic growth appears to be mostly restricted to selective and elitist environments (Bruton 2011, Coyle, Hood & Marsh 2010, Dalton-Puffer 2011). Second, there is a growing body of evidence on the rather limited effect of incidental vocabulary growth in instructed settings (Laufer & Nation 2012, Nation 2011, Rebuschat 2013). Thirdly, there seems to be a shortage of data driven longitudinal research on vocabulary growth in CLIL.

This explorative study tries to address this problem by reporting findings from a study on receptive vocabulary growth in non-elitist CLIL classrooms as compared to mainstream English as a foreign language classes in Austrian lower secondary schools. Firstly, a repeated-measure-design with experimental and control groups assessed vocabulary growth by means of a standardized orthographic vocabulary size test (X_Lex_Swansea_Levels_Test; Meara & Milton, 2003). Secondly, questionnaire data explored context variables, and thirdly CLIL teachers’ linguistic input was analysed through a vocabulary profiler software based on the New General Service List: NGSL (Cobb, 2014).

Surprisingly, the results of the quantitative data reveal a rather unexpected behaviour of the experimental group. The only significant CLIL effect materialises within the 1K band of both  X_Lex and NGSL for lower achievers. Apparently, these results contradict to some extent the general enthusiasm about CLIL and vocabulary growth because, when we modelled three levels of achievers, in our data, only weaker students benefitted in terms of basic receptive vocabulary. Astoundingly, of all three levels of achievement, the high achievers performed worst.

The analysis of teachers’ input indicates a redundancy of high-frequency words in the instructions. And although this might seem pedagogically justified with respect to the entrenchment of basic vocabulary (Ellis 2013), advanced word learning through rich input is not very likely to materialise.

As far as didactic implications are concerned, our data point towards a possible threshold-effect for CLIL’s linguistic capital (Rigney 2010, Sundquist 2009, Sylven & Sundquist 2012, Zydatiß 2012). In other words, language baths or language flooding might be insufficient when catering for pupils in non-elitist CLIL settings, in particular with respect to high and low achievers. One way of compensating for such threshold effects could be complementing incidental language learning by deliberate and form focused vocabulary instruction (Loewen 2011, Milton 2009, Nation 2011).

Blog_Language Growth


Coyle, D., Hood , P., & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL: Content an d language integrated learning. Cambridge: CUP.

Dalton-Puffer, C. (2011). “Content-and-Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, pp. 182-204.

Llinares, A., Morton, T., & Whittaker, R. (2012). The Roles of Language in CLIL. Cambridge: CUP.

Laufer, B., & Nation, I. (2012). “Vocabulary”. In S. M. Gass, & A. Mackey, The Routlegde Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Oxon: Routledge.

Nation, I. (2011). “Second Language Speaking”. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning, Vol. II. London: Routledge, pp. 443-454.

Rebuschat, P. (2013). “Implicit learning”. In P. Robinson, The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Second Languge Acquisition. London: Routledge, pp. 298-302.

Meara, P., & Milton, J. (2003). X-Lex, the Swansea Levels Test. Newbury: Express.

Rigney, D. (2010). The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage. New York Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Sundquist, P. (2009). Extramural English Matters. Karlstad: Karlstad University Studies.

Sylven, L., & Sundquist, P. (2012). “Similarities between Playing World of Warcraft and CLIL.” Apples-Journal of Applied Sciences, 6, 2, pp. 113-130.

Zydatiß, W. (2012). “Linguistic Thresholds in the CLIL Classroom? The Threshold Hypothesis Revisited.” International CLIL Research Journal, 1, 4, pp. 17-28.

Loewen, S. (2011). “Focus on Form”. In E. Hinkel, Handbook of Research In Second Language Teaching and Learning, Vol. 2. New York: Routledge, pp. 576-592.

Milton, J. (2009). Measuring Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

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CLIL – quo vadis?

Based on my personal experiences with CLIL (talks, reading, observation, teching, etc) I would like to propose some food for thought,  Denkanstösse, estimulo about CLIL. Most of the quotes (of course, minus  mine :)) can be found in: Dwight Atkinson (ed); Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition, Routledge, 2011.

  • Practice rules. Vygotsky
  • CLIL is a grass-root phenomenon. Dalton-Puffer; Gierlinger
  • There’s nothing more theoretically rich than a good practice. Atkinson
  • CLIL practice is in the eye of the beholder. Gierlinger
  • SLA is complex, situated and likely multivariate. Larsen-Freeman
  • There’s no end and there’s no state. Larsen-Freeman
  • An investment in the target language is also an investment in a learner’s own identity, an identitiy that is constantly changing across time and space. Norton
  • Human cognition is first and foremost adaptive intelligence – it exists primarily to help us survive and prosper in our ecosocial worlds. Atkinson
  • Everything is connected to everything. Atkinson
  • L2 users are not deficient users. Ortega

So how does that help or disturb us in our understanding of CLIL? Sadly, I have to admit that the argumentative leaning is focussing (too) much on the language side of CLIL. However, somehow I do think language plays a huge role in cognition. Especially when you are like me biased towards a socio-cognitive/cultural/interactional way of learning and follow L. Ortega

“… view learning as a social accomplishment and posit that knowledge and learning are socially distributed, have social histories, and are only possible through sociality”

But then the really interesting point is, how does that affect one’s (yours) actual teaching? Looking forward to hearing from you.


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Andalusian CLIL: Does the private school sector siphon off all the motivated/well-trained CLIL teachers?

According to an article in the February 1 edition of the ELGazette, p. 13, , Anthony Bruton raises his doubts on the efficacy of CLIL (and EFL)  in Andalusia and one of the reasons for this is – I venture to say his major reason –  is teacher selection. See selected quotes below:

“The question then becomes an institutional one, not necessarily a local cultural one: why do state communicative initiatives for FLs generally fail?

   One factor, which would be very difficult to investigate, may be teacher selection.”

Then explaining the relative CLIL success of the private (CLIL) sector,

“The other implicit feature of programmes that are selective is that they probably rely on motivated teachers who have opted in as well. In other words, there is also teacher self-selection, and, as I mentioned above, teacher selection is probably crucial, and then there is the training.” 

Or to put it in my plain and provocative rhetoric, “when CLIL works in Andalusia then it is in the private sector because of more motivated and better trained teachers”. 

Which raises several hopefully, interesting questions:

Is this true?

Is this also the case in other countries? And if so, why?





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CLIL – a difficult challenge?

David Graddol, the author of English Next, has said of CLIL: ‘there is a potentially large downside to it. In many countries they just don’t seem to be equipped to implement CLIL. When it works, it works extraordinarily well, but it is actually quite difficult to do well. My feeling is that it may actually take 30 or 40 years for a country to really to pull this one off.’

Graddol, D IATEFL CLIL debate, Cardiff,

UK 2005

Other researchers, though, have expressed concern about CLIL, suggesting, for example, that learning subjects in L1 rather than L2 produces better exam results, greater progress in subject learning, better learner self-perception and self-esteem and greater classroom participation. There are also concerns that CLIL takes time from L1 learning at primary level, leaving children unsure in their mother tongue; that weaker learners are disadvantaged; and that teachers may sometimes have insufficient L2 proficiency to teach CLIL effectively.

Spratt, Mary, The Nature of the beast,  Issue 72 January 2011 • ENGLISH TEACHING professional, 6

Are these concerns justified and what exactly are the quality features of CLIL that may take countries 30 to 40 years to satisfyingly implement them? Or have they got it all wrong?

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CLIL and FLT: Two uneasy bedfellows?

In a recent discussion on ONE- Stop English ( the question was asked if there was a risk that CLIL would erode the quality of English language education? One of the teachers replied, “Yes, I believe so. I can’t see how some CLIL training of subject teachers can ever make language teachers out of them. If English is only taught through CLIL in the future, there is a serious risk that the level of knowledge of English will begin to slide”.

Compare this to what an Austrian school inspector said to me recently, “If this CLIL works out nicely we do not need EFL classes anymore and could maybe shift resources to team-teaching CLIL classes, killing two birds with one stone, so-to-speak”. (Telling me that was strictly off the record or the English teachers would kill himJ).

So, where do you stand?


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